U.S. healthcare

Healthcare in the U.S. costs more than any other industrialized country but doesn't provide the best-quality care, according to a report from the Commonwealth Fund. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / May 3, 2012)

Healthcare in the United States is the most expensive in the world, but it's not the best, according to new research.

For each person, the U.S. spent $7,690 on medical care in 2009, according to data from the Commonwealth Fund research group. That was 17% of GDP at the time and the most of the 13 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

Healthcare spending in the U.S. was three times more than in Japan, the country with the lowest costs. The second-biggest spender, Norway, shelled out $5,352 per person, or 9.6% of GDP.

But it's not wealthy or older patients or a surplus of hospitals and doctors that cause prices in the U.S. to be so high. The authors of the report authors claim it's because many medical services used in this country are unnecessary or inefficient.

Consider: The U.S. had a smaller elderly population than any country in the study except New Zealand, more smokers than only Sweden and more physicians per capita than only Japan. Americans have fewer doctor consultations and hospital beds than most other countries, according to the data.

But the healthcare system in the U.S. sucks up more resources than any other nation, researchers found. Prices for brand-name drugs, office visits and medical procedures are the highest here, and hospitals are more likely to use expensive technologies such as MRI machines, they said.

For all that money, American patients aren't even getting top-notch hospital care, drugs, diagnostic exams or physicians, according to the report.

The report found that the U.S. has the world’s best breast cancer survival rate and shares the top rank for aiding cancer survival. But it said American hospitals' mortality rates for heart attacks and strokes are only average. More of the country's patients are obese than elsewhere, and doctors here are among the worst at stopping deaths from asthma and diabetes-related amputations, it said.

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